FRONTENAC — Gunner Hensley is a senior at Frontenac High School. He loves sports, his coaches, and is excited for his future.
A future he says is made possible by his mother, Rhonda Blair, who he openly adores.
"She's the best person," he said. "She has such compassion for others. Even when she should be taking care of herself, she's always trying to take care of me or someone else. She's an amazing mother."
What makes the mother of four's dedication to others so special is that since 2014 she has been battling an aggressive form of cancer.
The cancer has taken many things away from Blair, but not her warm nature and good attitude. She previously worked as a nurse for Dr. Holly Cranston in Pittsburg, until her health forced her to step down. She says she does miss the job caring for others, but has never had to go without the support from her friends at the office.
"There are no words for how much I love Dr. Cranston and the staff," Blair said. "Even though I can't be there they still include me in all the office parties, and events. They've helped my family so much."
The story of Blair's illness, she likes to point out, is one of constant support. Her family, gracious, and polite are quick to say how grateful they are.
"I have a lot of support from my coaches. They invite me to their house to eat dinner with their families, and are always checking on me," Gunner said. "Coach Smith and Varsolona especially are always there if I need them. It's nice to have someone check on me like that, I always know I have help if I need it."
Blair seems to inspire gratitude as well. Dr. Cranston who is helping to organize a fundraiser for Blair, said she has known her for over a decade and describes her as a beautiful kind soul.
"There are some people who you just know are going to be special in your life, and for me, Rhonda was one of those people," Cranston said. "She has a beautiful soul and is funny, kind, and smart."
Cranston said that finding out about the cancer was very difficult and moved her team to help.
"To watch someone you know and love go through that kind of nightmare is painful and frustrating because you can't take it away, and you aren't sure if there is anything you can do to help them through their struggles."
Helping is exactly what Cranston and Blair's friends were moved to do. Although her cancer is currently in a "controlled state" she still requires daily medication to keep it that way. The tumor also causes seizures that require specialty medication to control.
"They (cancer survivors) struggle every day to overcome what the disease and treatments left behind, knowing that they are not completely cancer free and they are not completely who they once were." Cranston explained. "We want Rhonda to know that we are with her in this struggle, we are with her in this fight, we are with her on this road because she is our friend whom we love."
Recently, Blairs medication has become unbearably expensive, and she needs a leg brace to help her stay mobile.
So her support team has organized a chilli fundraiser at Frontenac High School next week to help offset some of the costs. A local business, Palluccas, is donating supplies at a reduced cost, volunteers are cooking, and Cranston has arranged for several silent auction items.
"The support of this community has been tremendous in the past for others who have been in similar situations, and we hope that they will show this family the same kind of turn out," Cranston said.
Blair, who has a new grandbaby, said that she tries to focus on the good things, like being with her family and her community.
"Oh I love spoiling my grandbaby," she said with the good humor most grandmas show. "Without the grace of God, I would not be where I am today. I want to thank the community for everything they already done for me and their continued support."
The chilli fundraiser for Blair will start at 4:30 p.m., Jan. 28 at Frontenac schools directly before the Frontenac / Colgan basketball game. The cost is $7 and includes a drink and dessert.
Those wishing to donate but unable to attend the fundraiser can do so at www.gofundme.com/f/rhonda-blair